Cybersquatting: A threat to brands on social media
Internet use has expanded tremendously over the previous decade, leading to the birth of hundreds of new social media platforms. With the growing popularity and use of social media, an increasing number of people and businesses have delved into cyberspace to sell, advertise, or promote their company, name, products, or services.
As the use of social media as a business platform increases, so do the challenges in brand protection. One of them is cybersquatting or the seizure of the rights and assets of a domain.
Cybersquatting incidents in 2022 were at an all-time high, according to the Atlas VPN team. Over the course of this year, 5,616 complaints against cybersquatting were submitted to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), an increase of about 10% from last year.
Another level of cybersquatting
Cybersquatting refers to the act of fraudulent entities utilizing, trafficking in, and mimicking the domains of well-known or registered brands without permission from the brands’ owners, to extract benefits from their reputation. For example, the entities own starbuck.org, netflix.net, or whatsalapp.com.
This problem has been around since the beginning of the internet when people and businesses had not awakened about the importance of digital presence.
A real example of cybersquatting is the case of Microsoft vs MikeRoweSoft, wherein an individual named Mike Rowe set up the domain MikeRoweSoft.com to promote his web design services. The reason behind the name was that MikeRoweSoft phonetically sounds similar to ‘Microsoft.’
Another example is Tom Cruise’s case, where the Mission Impossible actor brought his case to the WIPO in 2006 against Jeff Burgar, who had owned the domain TomCruise.com for over ten years.
The evolving nature of social media aggravates this problem. Cybersquatting in social media is called “username squatting” or “impersonation”. Basically, the fraudulent entities register their usernames under well-known brands or prominent figures. This happens in the controversial Twitter Blue.
As we embark on web 3, the Hermès International vs Mason Rothschild case should be another lesson learned in brand protection. The French fashion house sued an NFT artist, Mason Rothschild, for producing and selling NFTs that he called MetaBirkins.
According to Hermès, the sale of MetaBirkin NFTs infringed on its Birkin brand, fraudulently labeled the provenance of the NFTs as if they were Hermès-authorized digital goods, and damaged and diluted Hermès’ reputation. Hermès also submitted a cybersquatting action against Rothschild since the website offering the NFTs was hosted under the domain name metabirkins.com.
Squatting on a brand’s name may cause a wide range of issues, including confused messages from consumers and inconsistencies in online branding.
Even worse, a phisher can use a squatted username to post a malicious link to social media users in order to steal their sensitive information. At the end of the day, username squatting can tarnish brands’ reputations.
What brands can do
Prevention is always better than cure. First and foremost, companies should think about trademarking their domains or usernames. Second, brand owners might want to consider registering accounts under various typosquatting, homograph squatting, and combosquatting usernames related to their businesses.
Lastly, brands should monitor their usernames to avoid them from being hijacked. If hijacking happens, brands can refer the matter to the brand safety policy of social media platforms. In general, they allow brand owners to report violations. If the violation is proven, they will take down the content or account.
Brands can take advantage of this policy. Comprehensive monitoring and prompt enforcement are essential to reduce the number of consumers who are victimized.
However, monitoring is not a walk in the park. This task calls for specialized methods, perseverance, and a skilled workforce.
Integrity Asia stands ready to help brand owners protect their brand identity and reputation by fighting the infringement of their products. Apart from removing counterfeit products on online channels, Integrity Asia is also experienced in continuous monitoring to detect and identify whether the infringed products are being re-offered using different accounts or channels.